Harpswell selectmen take close look at Mitchell Field structures

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HARPSWELL — After discussing the condition of several buildings at Mitchell Field and the possibility of a grant for demolition, selectmen conducted a site walk Monday to evaluate the need for structural analysis of each building. 

Code Enforcement Officer Bill Wells said none of the buildings may meet current codes and all will require a large investment to refurbish.

Selectmen Chairman James Henderson said a previous estimate set a projected cost of more than $300,000 just to repair roofs.

There are nine buildings and a water tower remaining on the more than 118-acre Mitchell Field property, which the town accepted from the U.S. Navy in 1997. Asbestos and mercury have been mitigated, but there is likely lead paint remaining, Wells said.

Wells said each of the structures was built in the 1950s with an expected 10-year lifespan. More than 50 years later, they have been boarded up with plywood and bars to deter vandals.

Wells said the town received a permit from the state to demolish all of the buildings and bury the debris on site. Crushed brick and concrete may be salvaged for new uses, he said.

Town Administrator Kristi Eiane suggested creating a priority list of buildings to be demolished. A steel “skeleton building” has already been removed, leaving just a concrete pad.

The town has applied for a grant for demolition that will not fund removal of all of the buildings and the water tower. The $60,000 grant will be awarded in March and the town is required to provide a $15,000 match. Town Planner Carol Tukey said she could apply for a larger grant, but the town must still kick in a 20 percent match.

Current estimates for removing all the buildings range between $150,000 and $500,000, Wells said.

“These are hazards for sure,” Wells said of the buildings.

Selectman Elie Multer said she would like a structural assessment of the water tower as well as cost estimates to demolish each individual building.

“If (the water tower) fails, that’s the biggest disaster of all of them,” she said.

The water tower is steel with an estimated 250,000-gallon capacity. A report by Woodward & Curran in 2006 did not assess the condition of the tower or a pier on the property.

There has been little to no maintenance to any of the structures since 1997, according to the report.

Inside the generator building, which Wells described as “far superior” to the rest of the buildings, peeling and flaking paint hangs from rails and two inactive diesel generators. The only light inside the building comes from an open door, because lighting fixtures and wiring have been destroyed by vandals and time. A strong smell of oil and diesel mixes with the smell of a building long closed.

Mitchell Field Implementation Committee member Karin Blake said materials left on site to create a railing for the pier have been removed and thrown in the ocean. The pier remains closed to the public.

While there is little evidence of graffiti, vandals have destroyed anything left of value inside each of the accessible buildings, even going as far as smashing a sink with a large rock, according to one committee member.

Two houses also gained by the town as part of the property were discussed Monday. Henderson said he wanted to be sure “specifically (the houses) are not livable” to avoid backlash in the future. Eiane said she has been told there is mold and evidence of lead paint in both houses.

“They are not fit to be rented,” she said, adding it is her understanding the Mitchell Field Implementation Committee agreed the houses should also be demolished along with the other brick buildings.

Eiane determined the next steps would be getting an estimate on evaluating the structural integrity of the water tower, assessing the “livability and liability” of the two houses and creating a prioritized list of buildings to be demolished.

Selectmen were scheduled to meet with the Mitchell Field Implementation Committee Thursday, Dec. 2, at 5 p.m. to discuss proposed ordinance changes to allow redevelopment of the property.

Stephanie Grinnell can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or sgrinnell@theforecaster.net.

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Harpswell Town Administrator Kristi Eiane enters the water treatment building at Mitchell Field Monday during a site walk with selectmen.

Mitchell Field Implementation Committee member Karin Blake looks over generators left behind by the U.S. Navy at its former fuel depot.

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